Santiago Ponzinibbio | Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Still bitter about the split decision setback against Geoff Neal he suffered in December, a fight Ponzinibbio is sure he should’ve won on the judges’ scorecards after three hard rounds, the 35-year-old veteran returns Saturday looking to make a dramatic statement.
“Many people thought I won [that fight],” Ponzinibbio said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “The champion Kamaru Usman is not my friend and he tweeted he thought I won the fight. It was a split decision, I thought I won, and I belong in the elite of the 170-pound division.”
Pereira is on a four-fight winning streak inside the octagon, having most recently won a decision over Andre Fialho, and Ponzinibbio sees him as an “unpredictable” foe due to his flashy and unorthodox fighting style.
“It’s another challenge ahead, a different fighter, an unpredictable fighter,” Ponzinibbio said. “I’ll go out there with my best version, win this fight and continue pursuing the world title. It’s a very exciting fight for the fans and also for me. Michel Pereira has a completely different style.
“A unique fighter, very impressive, one of the most spectacular in the company. It’s a challenge for me, and I’m happy with this challenge. We’ll put on a great fight.”
Gearing up for an opponent who throws flying knees, jumping kicks, and somersaults mid-fight is strange and requires a few tweaks in the gym. That said, Ponzinibbio was happy with what his coaches at American Top Team did in the weeks leading up to UFC Vegas 55.
“His unpredictability makes him very dangerous,” Ponzinibbio said. “He’s shown his knockout power and how creative he is inside the octagon so you have to respect that and do a job well done.”
A welterweight with knockout power himself, having stopped the likes of Neil Magny, Gunnar Nelson, and Court McGee during his 10-4 run under the UFC banner, Ponzinibbio will always predict a finish in his fights.
“Doing what I always do,” Ponzinibbio said when asked how he envisions himself beating Pereira, “putting my hands on him and going for the knockout and pressuring him to see what happens, if he’s going to take it and we’ll fight three rounds. I’m prepared for it.”